Twitter, Vark & ‘Real-Time’ Local Search

Danny Sullivan has written three long pieces about the rise of Twitter as a search tool. (I’ve been writing about the potential evolution of Twitter into a real-time Q&A tool both here and at LMS.) Danny also talks about the recently launched Vark (from former Googlers):


Vark is a private beta Q&A service that leverages IM and tries to organize people into networks and get them to self classify around areas of expertise. It’s a Q&A service with some thoughtful features it appears. It’s not that far removed from Mosio (w/o the mobile dimension however) or ChaCha or the new text411. Yahoo Answers is also a cousin of this service. Then there are all the so-called “social search” engines that have come and gone.

Elsewhere I’ve called this category “social directory assistance.”

Back to Twitter: there have been several attempts so far to organize Twitter’s local content. There will be many more. One of those is Twellow. I also was informed this morning of another local search tool using Twitter content called ChirpCity:


Then there are Facebook updates and discussion threads. There’s also Yahoo oneConnect (mobile), which allows one-to-many communication among contacts. The list is getting longer.

Not all these services are the same, but conceptually the idea is to leverage human beings to respond to specific questions or queries either in real time or in a near real-time way.  Social search, review sites (e.g., Yelp) and Q&A (e.g., Yahoo Answers, Askville, LinkedIn Q&A) are all versions of offline word-of-mouth recommendations.

The promise of “human-powered search” has been around for several years. However none of the sites promoting that concept have really been successful. We’re just starting to see something more viable crystalize and emerge, in all these sites, which may well represent a successor to traditional search — or perhaps a companion to it.

As Danny discusses in one of his posts a key question is trust: how do I trust the answers? One approach is to stratify or classify responses by my network of contacts or those associated with my network. I’ve referred to this problem in the past as one of filtering. Mosio allows  you to do this. GoodRec also does this and Vark is taking a similar approach.

All these services require some sort of “critical mass” of users in order to generate sufficient content and ability to respond in real-time or near real-time to the wide range of questions that are thrown at them. Twitter has already achieved this. The next problem, as mentioned, is filtering: both the noise (i.e., in Twitter) and better responses from poorer responses.

Where all these services really shine (potentially) is in a mobile environment, where my access to online tools and information is somewhat more constrained, notwithstanding the iPhone, etc. My patience is also less and my needs may be more immediate. But they need to straddle the PC and mobile as Twitter, Mosio and Facebook do. 

I often ask people: if you had access on a mobile device to a one-to-many communication tool that enabled you to ask any question and get a near real-time answer from a trusted source or network, wouldn’t you use that more often than Google? The answer is almost always “yes.”

If an elegant version of what I just described,  which is what most of these services are striving for, can be developed it will represent a successor or powerful companion to algorithmic search engines.

In the history of search first there were human-edited directories (e.g., Yahoo! Directory). Then there were simply too many sites, and search engines were used to retrieve information. Google was a better version of search and it became dominant accordingly. Now the amount of information is so overwhelming that people become relevant again. And this is especially true in mobile: I don’t want to sift through tons of information; just give me a few trusted, thoughtful responses and I’ll take it from there.

This is the next frontier for search: real-time answers in a mobile environment.


Update: I’m informed by Jim Lanzone that Vark does have a mobile capability.


8 Responses to “Twitter, Vark & ‘Real-Time’ Local Search”

  1. Roberto Martinez Says:

    Thanks for the post, Greg.
    That was really quick 🙂

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    If I don’t do it fast, it sometimes doesn’t happen.

    We should talk on the phone.

  3. Annalise Says:

    eZanga is a search engine that specializes in pay-per-click advertising. Their results are aggragated from nine different sources and given to you in real time.

  4. Twitter, Local and Beyond « Screenwerk Says:

    […] what direction(s) will it go; and (when) will it be acquired and by whom? First, I’ve written a great deal already about potential directions it could go — including into local as a form of “social DA.” In October, 2007 I […]

  5. Saumil Mehta Says:

    Great post, really enjoyed it. I’m a PM at Kosmix ( and our take is that a human-edited overlay on top of pure algorithmic universal search is important to filter through the noise. If you look at our topic pages, there’s a significant human component to the way the pages are constructed (even though the pages themselves are constructed by our algos, which allows for significant scale).

    Haven’t fully grokked yet what Twitter’s role is in this emerging world, so thanks for juicing my brain in that direction.

  6. Greg Sterling Says:


    I’m quite familiar with Kosmix and appreciate what you guys are doing.

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  8. Turning YP Sites into Recommendations Engines « LocalLab : Foire aux Infos Says:

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